When Apple late last year sheepishly announced the delay of HomePod until further notice, my impression of the unfolding news coverage and social media feeds at the time was that the fallout had been remarkably tame considering that for presumably many, a brand new Apple product had just been removed from its sure place under the Christmas tree.
The exception proved the rule of course and you could safely count on the usual suspects guilty of peddling Apple outrage, but the wider tenor across boards, forums and writers felt like a stance of disregard and, dare I say, indifference. As much as this should concern Apple, I have to profess that to this day I can fundamentally relate to some of those vacant feelings about the 2018 Apple speaker.
What exactly is Apple thinking we are holding our breath for again? A speaker? Got plenty high quality ones, many of which I incidentally bought from Apple’s own shelves. Siri? She’s literally strapped to my body, let alone hard to escape in my own four walls already. Any other potentially unique selling points attached to the high-end speaker? I fail to see them. Taking a step back, could this be the sort of product that holistically adds to the existent line-up or helps dominate an industry in the near future? Not in my book at least.
The most poignant thing of it all is that a diminutive change in Apple’s strategy could’ve easily made all my complaints blow up in my face. I rarely catch myself saying this, but I really can wait for the HomePod, much more – to be brutally honest – would not mind waiting forever. Before you get too angered by my sweeping statements on a product you might be psyched about, allow me to unpack.
I’ve voiced my trepidation about the HomePod and its designated role before, chiefly as it relates to the Apple TV in my article back in May. Fast forward to today – months after the grand unveiling – and none of my concerns have been put at ease. If anything, I’m less confident than before that the HomePod is worth the continuing product proliferation at Apple, which I find increasingly reminiscent of the outgrowths Steve Jobs so famously fought in the late 90s.
Jobs espoused self-cannibalization and launching products that would consistently one-up their predecessors. The HomePod feels like the antithesis to that, filling a perceived, negligible gap in the market instead of bringing anything new to the table. Granted, none of Apple’s products to date rock speakers this powerful and smart (including spatial awareness), but if we drop all pretence for a fleeting moment ultimately we are looking at Siri powered speakers – two features so common in Apple devices today that I have a hard time thinking of just one that’s lacking in that regard.
The easiest (but also most facile) rebuke to my charge is to claim that I’m being petty and not looking at the bigger picture. Surely Apple have analyzed the market excessively and cooked up a comprehensive strategy to ensure their HomePod will become another record smashing success story?
Maybe they have and I can’t get it through my thick skull, but until someone’s convinced me of the opposite, I’ll have to say that I just cannot see it. This bugs me since it directly contravenes Apple’s original ambition to either revolutionise or dominate any category they enter. It’s a speaker. And worse, a speaker that (despite its reported superior sound quality) will be perceived by the public as less able than the competition.
If Apple genuinely believe that they will be competing fairly and squarely with Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant, they will be in for a rude awakening. That is unless they’re also planning to roll out a wildly successful search engine and online commerce platform. The competition is not only stiff but also predicated on entirely different business models, which genuinely makes me wonder why Apple chose the ‘smart speaker’ category as their next domain (and potential hill to die on).
Some might say I’m misinterpreting HomePod and it’s truly all about ‘music running deeply in Apple’s DNA’, much less about competing with the likes of Google or Amazon. Bearing in mind how unceremoniously Apple killed off the iPod Nano and Shuffle in 2017 though, I find that a hard to believe flip flop on their end.
As hinted earlier, the by far most frustrating part is that Apple’s marketing department could’ve easily rejigged this product and invalidated all my gripes – including my reluctance to believe that this is really about music – with a single stroke. Name the same device Beats Home (Pod) and none of my crying holds up to scrutiny any longer.
The device would not clog up Apple’s own product matrix, it’s now more credibly mainly about the music side of it and the speaker becomes the first intelligent (Siri enabled) Beats product – an asset for the Beats portfolio instead of a liability to Apple’s.
While it may not sound like it, my mind remains open on the matter and (for Apple’s sake) I’m hoping that my gloomy prognosis will prominently miss the mark. More often than not I am crafting arguments in favor of new Apple products, because it’s traditionally easy to stake out the novelty and utility of most of Apple’s newly launched products (such as AirPods or Apple Watch more recently).
With HomePod I’m at a loss, not only as for its wider role in the company but also in regard to how it could possibly have the makings to outdo or outsmart the competition (or even their very own products). If this is part of a concerted push towards smart homes, Apple would be better off throwing extra funds at their Apple TV, a much more compelling building block in the home of the future as far as I am concerned.
Sadly, HomePod does not have the X factor we have come to appreciate from the company revolutionising so many consumer products. But it is 2018 and HomePod’s birthday is here. Here’s to hoping that more people will show up to its party than I’m gambling on.